16.03.2014 - 22.03.2014 15 °C
Time to get away on a break and this time I picked Jiangnan （江南） tour since my father has not been to this part of China. Actually I am only interested in Nanking and Hangzhou but am open to exploring other neighbouring cities in the area. This tour also comprises Shanghai, Suzhou and Wuxi and with a seven day schedule, I expected it to be another hectic tour.
I had actually been to Shanghai back in 2004 for a job assignment and had the change to go to The Bund and Peach Hotel for some jazz music. This tour would allow me to re-visit this place again with more stops on the itinerary.
Shanghai, the Pearl of the Orient, is one of the economic powerhouses in Asia. With a rich history of foreign influence and diverse culture (I’ll skip the history part), Shanghai is a city encompassing old European influence and modern infrastructure, with more Europeans visiting this part of China than other Chinese cities. In fact in many ways, I find myself stepping back into Singapore as there are many parallels between the 2 cities, not least the many, many tall buildings around me! Not surprising since Singapore has been compared to the likes of Hong Kong and Shanghai. And for the rest of this write-up, you will often see me compare various parts of Shanghai to Singapore as they are so alike. Traffic was quite bad and we were often caught in the jam. If I had time to stay longer, I will definitely take time to explore more of it rich European influence
Our first stop was Shanghai World Financial Centre (SWFC), Shanghai’s tallest building housing an observation deck which gives one a paranormal view of the city from 100 stories up. I am actually not a big fan, having skipped previous opportunities to observe similar skyview when in KL (Petronas Towers), Taipei (Taipei 101) and Tokyo (Tokyo Tower). But since this was part of the itinerary and free, so why not? The view up there was certainly nice but after a while you tend to get bored. I still prefer the skyview back in Singapore when I had the chance to see it for free when visiting both DBS and DNB banks. However, it would be magnificent to see the skyview if I had a powerful pair of binoculars, especially at night. But I do applaud the attraction management for trying to create a space-like atmosphere, to give one the impression that we are being warped through space to another dimension, from the time we step into the lift to the short walk up to the 100-storey observation deck.
Then we went to AP Plaza. Basically this is an air con bazaar. But we went a bit too early and most shops were still closed. Most of the shops sell clothes and nothing there really interested us. And we were constantly approached by touts to go to the back alley and buy fake bags and watches. It was something that I had experienced in my previous Shanghai trip but definitely I was not oing to do it this time round. At least not without a local to watch my back! We also saw 2 aspiring Li Nas hitting tennis balls against the wall. Just to show without proper facilities, the Chinese can innovate to achieve their dreams. The Science and Technology was also located next door, which was crowded with people, mainly teenagers.
Next stop was Cheng Huang Temple (城隍庙). Reminds me of Singapore’s Rochor Centre. I spotted Yu Yuan (豫园), one of the recommended must visit attractions in my Shanghai app. It was a courtyard cum garden and we spend the next hour roaming. There were a mix of locals and foreigners, mostly interested in taking photos.
The second leg of our Shanghai tour took place upon our return from HangZhou. Our first stop was QiBao Street (七宝老街). This was a street market with mostly locals and was we had a good time trawling through the stalls doing some street shopping. Unfortunately most of the items on sale did not suit us and there is only so much food our stomach can store! I still prefer Thailand when it comes to street market shopping though.
We then watched the ERA show (http://www.era-shanghai.com/era/en/). This was a highly recommended show from various internet sources, inclusive Trip Advisor and I was certainly not going to miss it when the opportunity presented itself. The show certainly did not disappoint. Often at times I was astounded by the scary stunts especially during the Wheel of Life segment where performers ran like a mouse through the a giant rotating wheel while trying to perform stunts like juggling and rope skipping. At times, there were many near misses and everybody had their hearts in their mouths, anticipating that something would go wrong. It was that scary. The other segment that touched me was the Forever performance whereby a young couple performed incredible feats using 2 ribbons suspended in midair. A lot of trust and practice was required to get this stunt going right and it was touching to see the young man and lady placing so much faith and their lives in each other’ hands as any mishaps would be fatal.
The rest of the Shanghai trip consists of The Bund, one of the iconic attractions in Shanghai. It reminds me too much of Shenton Way / Clark Quey area and also of Hong Kong’s The Peak. There were many people on the Bund, mainly to take photos and enjoying the building structure across the river. But if I had more time, I would definitely have explored the rich European-influenced architectural buildings around the area. Xing Tain Di (新天地 reminds too much of China Square, with people mingling around for coffee, finger food and catch up with friends. I noted that the price there is not cheap. Madam Tussand museum was certainly one of the highlights of this Shanghai tour. I am sure this museum needs further introduction and everybody had a field day taking photos with celebrities, alit with wax figures. Celebrities include Hollywood A-listers, Asian stars, Chinese celebrities, political leaders and leading sports people. Surprisingly, the most popular celebrity turns out to be Obama! I guess people like men with power! Nanking Street is just beside the shopping centre where Madam Tussand museum is located. The street liken to Singapore’s Orchard road. It is long and we had no time to cover it in its entirety but all we saw were people and more people. But like most parts of Shanghai, the items on sale either did not suit us or were too expensive.
Suzhou is an up and coming city, with well developed infrastructure thanks to extensive development via the Suzhou Industrial Park. I was impressed by the city but help can’t stop thinking the infrastructure is heavily influenced by Singapore ideas.
We covered Wang Shi Garden (网师园), a UNESCO world heritage site, which the locals are proud of. This structure showcases a typical house and the garden built by the wealthy during the Song dynasty to showcase their wealth and status. You can see the painstaking effort and attention to details that the wealthy Chinese put into building this house For once I enjoyed the guided tour as the guide explained in detail the meaning and story behind each structure and decoration. Had I gone alone, I think I would not have appreciated this attraction as much.
We then covered Hanshan Temple (寒山寺), said to be a famous temple in whole of China. It is said that this temple holds important ceremonies and is especially famous for its bell strikes especially during mid authum and new year periods.
We also covered Li Gong Di (李公堤), a food and beverage cum recreational location located along JinJi lake. This is a good area to come for relaxation after work.
Sha Jia Bang (沙家浜)
One the way to Wuxi from Suzhou, we dropped by Sha Jia Bang. This is a part of Chinese history familiar to most mainland Chinese due to several shows and operas on it but it is unknown to most Chinese outside of China. It depicts of the battle against the Japanese where some of the defenders chose this spot to recuperate. The reeds around the area proved to be good hiding cover from the Japanese and we were taken on a boat ride to enjoy the view and spot the reeds. It currently serves as one of revolutionary education centre and in fact we happened to catch school children dressed in army uniform touring the site. There was also a show with special pyrotechnics on the battle between the revolutionary forces and the Japanese invaders. There was a museum that we did not manage to visit but you can’t help but feel this is a place to serve as an indirect propaganda to glorify the communist regime.
In ancient times, Wuxi was the place of battle between Wu & Yue and sets the scene for the story between Xi Shi (西施) and Fan Li (范蠡）. We visited the Li Lake Garden (蠡湖) (small park which did not leave a lasting impression) There were people selling kites but that day was not a good day to fly kites due to lack of wind. Disappointingly, we did not visit Tai Lake. The next day, we visited the Romance of 3 kingdoms film location site, which has since been turned into a tourist attraction. China’s CCTV constructed this site to film the epic Romance TV series. We caught 2 locations the back palace (后宫) where we were in luck to catch a filming in progress and the stage scene for battle of Red Cliff. There was also a performance, mainly to show the horsemanship skills of the riders. There were many other areas which we did not cover due to the rushing nature of tour groups so I really didn’t feel like I had visited the attraction long enough to enjoy it.
I noted that there was also a Water Margin film set which I did not visit. Disappointing again.
Naking is a city rich in history. It serves as the capital city of China for several dynasties even as recent as the KMT period but is now the state capital of Jiangsu province. Also known as the stone city, because of its the excellent craftsmanship, Naking is also the scene where the terrible massacre , otherwise known as the Rape of Nanking took place during the Japanese invasion of 1937. Due to its important role played in China’s history, this was one of stops that greatly interested me.
The first impression of Nanking was that it gave me the feel of the 1930s. Modern buildings were in construction like most parts of China but it still managed to retain its charm. It is not as crowded as Shanghai. The city walls surrounding the city, which were built during the Ming Dynasty to stop foreign invaders, were retained as part of its historical charm
The first stop is Fu Zi Street (夫子街), where is basically a street bazaar. There is of course a temple but unfortunately we had to pay an entrance fee (commercialization again) hence we did not go in.
The next day we visited 2 attractions, the Naking Yangtze River Bridge and Nanking Massacre memorial. The Nanking Bridge, a project that the Chinese are very proud of, depicts the struggles and determination of the Communist period. It took the Chinese years, countless lives and without the help of foreign expertise and technology to construct the impossible. It may look old and unassuming as it nonchalantly went about serving its function of providing a link between 2 parts of the Yangtze River by car and rail, without fuss. But it captured the pride and spirit of the Communist period to do the impossible, no matter the price. There an exhibit with a small-scale model explaining the history of the bridge. We were also shown the room where Chairman Mao once stood when he visited the Nanking Bridge. There is even a seat where Chairman Mao once sat but according to the guide, it has since been replaced due to wear and tear
The Nanking Massacre is one of the exhibits where I was looking forward to. It serves as a memorial to the tens and thousands of victims slain by the Japanese during the fateful period of 1937. There is an excavation site with photos and a memorial but nothing horrifying to despite those terrible years, unlike the Tho Slang Museum and Killing Fields of Cambodia. It is a simple, clean place with few exhibits and out of respect there are few noises but the symbolic creation of the memorial site is to remind people to never forget what happened during those terrible years as well as act as a symbol of peace in future generations
HangZhou is one of those romantic cities I have been looking forward to. It is made famous by natural scenic beauty of West Lake as well the famous poet and governor Su DongPo.
On first impression, it is a peaceful and tranquil city, But with commercialization and ‘foreign invasion’, with tourism set to play an important role in the city’s economy, expect the peace to be shattered very soon. Thus it is best to visit the city soon before commercial dollars invades the peace and quiet.
First stop is the famed West Lake (西湖) Actually the area is quite big but due to tour group policy, we only managed to visit a fraction of it. This is one aspect of joining a tour group that I absolutely hated. We were taken to the Su Causeway and took a boat ride around West Lake. The West Lake is peaceful and tranquil but not the spectacular type to set the wows going. We also visited the Lover’s Bridge where the scene of the famous romantic tragic love story Liang ShanBo and Zhu YinTai. I think if I had more time to explore the West Lake, I would perhaps have appreciated it more. And this area sure looks like an excellent spot for jogging and relaxation activities. But unfortunately I did not have time to go jogging around the West Lake! That would have really served up my day!
With some spare time at night, we paid a visit to the city centre. Things were sure quiet at night. Some shops were open but most sell stuff that do not interest us and there were few customers roaming around. Most people I saw were gathered around in restaurants and fast food joints for food and chit chat session.
We also watched the West Lake show (西湖之夜). Compulsory show according to the guide. It was interesting but not as spectacular as the ERA show.
Xi Tang （西塘）
This is a waterside village very much the floating markets of Thailand we visited en route from HangZhou to Shanghai. We took a boat ride round the village I loved the peace and tranquility of the area. Again due to tour constrains, we basically ran through the attractions, which is a bit disappointing as I would have liked to spend more time there, slowing walking through, enjoying the scenery and checking out the various items on sale.
To conclude, due to joining of a group tour, I had a sense of unfulfilled accomplishment during this trip as we made our way to the airport for home. If only we had more time to explore some the places like West Lake, Xi Tang and the film studio! If I were to come back I would sure like to have more time to explore Wuxi and Hangzhou